Catherine Jamison-Imwalle (Wilson, 1967)

Cathy Jamison-ImwalleCathy Jamison-Imwalle

Catherine Jamison-Imwalle (Wilson, 1967)

November 2021 ~

First-grader Cathy Jamison’s (Wilson, 1967) first swim lesson, at the Jewish Community Center, a short walk from her school (St. Helen’s Hall, now Oregon Episcopal School) made such an impression on her that about 65 years later she still remembers it clearly.

“I hated it,” she says. “I remember being in that pool and hanging on for dear life. I told my mom I wasn’t coming back.”

And she didn’t.

Until the next summer, when she tried again.

Those results were better.

“It was an outdoor pool, and the water was cold, but I must have decided it was OK,” she recalls.

Soon Cathy, who had switched to Hayhurst Elementary, was swimming a lot – and racing against other girls here, there and in places far away.

She became very good at it, especially the breaststroke.

By the time she was 14 and had just finished her freshman year at then-Wilson High, Cathy (now Jamison-Imwalle) competed in the U.S. Olympic Trials and nearly made the team.

When she was 18 and a freshman at Santa Clara University, she did make the team and swam the 200-meter breaststroke for the U.S. in the 1968 Mexico City Olympics.

She returned home disappointed with her fifth-place showing, went skiing with family a couple weeks later at Mt. Hood Meadows and broke a leg on her first run down the mountain.

“I took that as a sign it was time to hang up my (swim) suit,” she said.

And with that, her competitive career was basically over.

Her exploits for various swim clubs as a youth and at Wilson and for a club team at Santa Clara have not been forgotten, however.

Jamison-Imwalle, a 1967 Wilson grad, was inducted into the PIL Hall of Fame in 2004. She also went into the Santa Clara Hall of Fame in 1971, and in 2019 she was part of the first inaugural class of the Oregon Swimming Hall of Fame.

Cathy and husband Paul, who met her at Santa Clara, left the Bay Area nearly a half-century ago and found a business venture to their liking in Bend. They’ve been there ever since, operating I&J Carpets & Vinyl Flooring for 46 years and counting.

Cathy hasn’t done a lot in swimming over the years, although she was the coach at Mountain View High in Bend for four years in the late 1990s.

She and Paul have three children, all of whom swam, especially the two daughters, who went to Cal and Oregon State on swimming scholarships.

And one of the couple’s four grandchildren is an accomplished breaststroker, age 16, for the Bend Swim Club.

Times were so different when Cathy was growing up. Girls had few sports teams to choose from, even in high school. Swimming was Cathy’s only sport.

And when she was looking for a college, it was before Title IX and she had no athletic scholarship opportunities. She applied to Stanford but wasn’t accepted. She wound up at Santa Clara with little thought about swimming, really; the school did not have women’s swim team. She had no recruiting visits and thought Santa Clara was a junior college and that she would transfer to Oregon State after one year.

But things worked out well at Santa Clara, as a local swim club was a great fit, and the coach there, George Haines, helped her develop further. She also finished with a degree in math.

Cathy and siblings Jody, Ches and Jim, all younger, traveled around Oregon and the Northwest for swim meets when they were growing up in Portland.

“My sister was probably better than me, but she didn’t love it,” Cathy says.

By contrast, Cathy took it seriously. So seriously that once during a snowfall, when her mom didn’t feel comfortable about driving her to practice, Cathy called a taxi so she could get to the workout.

Cathy competed for Neighborhood House in Southwest Portland, then Tualatin Hills Swim Club, then Multnomah Athletic Club. She credits coaches George Poole, Rod Harmon and Olive Mucha for all being influential in those formative times.

Her first meet was at age 8 at Buckman Pool. She would go on to compete in places like Seattle, Tacoma, Vancouver, B.C., Pendleton and Redding, California.

Opportunities to compete nationally began to materialize as time went on. These took her to Philadelphia, Nebraska, Ohio and elsewhere.

Highlights for her included the 1965 Little Olympics in Mexico City (her first experience representing the United States), the 1967 Pan-American Games in Winnipeg, and the 1967 Tokyo World Student Games.

At the 1964 Olympic Trials in New York City, she came close to making the U.S. team, even though she had to swim both the 100 and 200 breaststroke a demanding, fatiguing three times in one day after being in swim-offs for the finals.

She doesn’t remember feeling a lot of pressure.

“Being a 14-year-old, I’m sure I was nervous. But at 14, sometimes ignorance is bliss,” she says.

The ‘68 Trials were in Los Angeles. She came in with a lifetime best of 2 minutes, 48 seconds in the 200 breaststroke. She swam 2:45 to advance to the finals. Then she got down to 2:42, and placed second. She was going to the Olympics!

From there, it was quickly on to Colorado Springs with the U.S. team for about six weeks of training geared to help the swimmers prepare for the 7,350-foot altitude of Mexico City.

The U.S. participation in the Games became iffy after a government shooting of student protesters in Mexico City reportedly killed hundreds 10 days before the Olympics were to start.

“For awhile we were going and then we weren’t going. It was back and forth. There was a lot of unrest in Mexico City,” she says.

The opening ceremonies and other things about the Games were more regimented in those days.

“We had to practice marching, had to stay in step,” she said, and the U.S. athletes were coached on how to turn their heads so they would make eye contact with the president of Mexico as they went by him during the ceremonies.

The swimming events came late in the Games, and Cathy says the swim team had to continue training and maintain focus while other Olympic events were in progress. So she didn’t get to watch a lot of the other competition.

“I wish I could remember more” of the Olympics. “I didn’t think I did very well.”

In the finals, she swam 2:48 for fifth.

The gold went to 16-year-old Sharon Wickman of the U.S. in 2:44.4.

“If I’d had the same time I had at the Trials, I’d have won,” Cathy says. “It just was not a good day.”

She was discouraged after breaking her leg on the ski slopes and with her physical condition, and with the memory of a less-than-desired 1968 Olympic result.

“Sometimes, looking back, I think I should have kept going (in swim competition), but you make decisions,” she says.

Jamison-Imwalle does fondly recall her days at Wilson and times with the Trojans’ swim team.

“Great times, with friends and the team,” she says.

She was a four-time state champion in the 100-yard breaststroke and added titles in the 200 freestyle and 200 medley relay, earning All-American honors three years.

And she’ll not only always be an Olympian but can boast that part of her is in the Smithsonian Institution.

“I have my uniform and my bag and some other things,” she says. “My swim cap, which I had all the females on the swim team sign, is at the Smithsonian.”

 

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